Champurrado is a soul- and belly-warming atole or masa harina-based drink made with chocolate, milk, cinnamon and sugar. It’s often called Mexican hot chocolate, although Mexican hot chocolate is its own very different thing.
Champurrado uses masa harina, flour made from dried and finely ground field corn that has gone through a process called nixtamalization. (Learn more in this Familia Kitchen ultimate guide to corn flour, where we go deep into its product types, uses, and history in Mexican and Latino cuisine.)
No matter what you call it, we love sipping champurrado on a chilly day. It gives us the cozy we crave. Especially as part of Day of the Dead celebrations.
Champurrado, like calabaza en tacha and buñuelos, has long been associated with Day of the Dead celebrations. Atole drinks made with masa harina and chocolate go all the way back to ancient Mexico. More than 3,000 years ago, the Maya, Toltec, and Aztec civilization began cultivating the cacao tree’s fruit. They learned to roast its beans and use the resulting cacao paste as a prized ingredient in their festivities. These beans were so prized by the Spanish conquistadores, they took the chocolate beans as treasure back to Europe to much fanfare.
”This is a simple hot drink we have during fall and winter and reminds me of family gatherings,” says Vivi Abeja, one of our favorite Mexican cooks. As a special tribute to Day of the Dead this year, Familia Kitchen asked Vivi to choose three of her favorite recipes as ofrendas to her beloved Abuelita, who passed away this year at age 92.
Vivi chose this champurrado as one of the must-make family recetas. The other two were equally special and remind her of her grandmother: Calabaza en tacha or sweet pumpkin cooked in piloncillo syrup, and crispy buñuelos sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon.
A Day of the Dead Champurrado for Vivi’s Abuelita
Born in Michoacan, Mexico, Elisa Abeja died February 25, 2023 at the age of 92 in Chicago, and this is the first altar Vivi is making that includes ofrendas to her beloved grandmother. The two were extremely close, and Vivi cites her grandmother’s love of feeding her family as a guiding reason why she chose to make cooking her own life’s work and passion.
As Vivi looked ahead to Day of the Dead on November 1 and 2, she started building a beautiful Dia de los Muertos altar. ”It’s been a very emotional experience for me,” she says. After carefully arranging photos, candles, marigold flowers, and special pieces of traditional cloth, Vivi placed a cup of steamy champurrado to honor and celebrate her Abuelita’s life.
Like most of her cooking memories, making champurrado is linked to her grandmother’s guiding influence. “I first was taught how to make this when I was very young — about 8 years old — at a church function,” Vivi remembers. ”My grandparents would take us with them to our church’s Circulo de Oración [prayer circle], where churchgoers would pray and read the Bible together. My grandfather was one of the leaders of that group and my grandmother was one of the people in the kitchen helping make Mexican hot chocolate and champurrado in the church’s kitchen. I would either be with the kids running around the gym or in the back kitchen helping with the snacks.”
Now that she is the one making this recipe as an adult in her own kitchen, has she make any changes to her grandmother’s recipe for champurrado? She pretty much sticks to the original recipe, says Vivi, with one exception. ”I’ve recently started loving the flavor of cloves more and more, so I added more cloves to this recipe than I usually do.”
How often does she make this champurrado and for who? So far, she says, ”I’ve only made this in the fall. I’ve made it by request for churches and family members, and it was briefly an item I sold outside my grandmothers house” during the early days of COVID, when Vivi started making Mexican traditional dishes and drinks for sale on the streets of Little Village, her Chicago neighborhood know for its Mexican heritage.
One last pro tip: When making champurrado, be sure to use Mexican chocolate tablets. They taste different than U.S. chocolate bars. Available at most grocery stores, the most popular Mexican chocolate brands are Ibarra, which is produced in Jalisco, Mexico, and the aptly named Abuelita, which was founded in Veracruz and is now owned by Nestle. Unlike American chocolate, Mexican chocolate mixes the cacao with cinnamon, sugar and even vanilla. You can tell it’s Mexican by its round, thick shape marked with distinctive octagonal lines, ready to be broken off into pie-shaped chunks.